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International Graduate Student Applicants

We welcome applications from students from around the world.  The mathematical profession has more international collaboration than almost any other field of study. This is reflected in the University of Washington (UW) Mathematics Department, which has many faculty and graduate students who received their education through the undergraduate level in other countries.  The contributions of graduate students and faculty from different parts of the world enhance the department's diversity and its strength in research and teaching. 

The UW Mathematics Department has strengths in many research areas, including algebraic geometry, algebraic topology, combinatorics, complex analysis, differential geometry, discrete geometry, ergodic theory & dynamical systems, mathematical physics, non-smooth analysis, number theory, numerical analysis, optimization, PDE, probability, and representation theory of Lie groups & Lie algebras. Before applying, it’s a good idea to examine the research fields that are represented (see https://math.washington.edu/research-fields) to be sure that they mesh with your interests.

Located in Seattle, UW is the flagship university of the State of Washington, which has been ranked “the best state in America” by U.S. News & World Report (https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/articles/2021-03-09/why-washington-is-the-best-state-in-america).  Seattle is the home of many international companies such as Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft, and Starbucks. The surrounding area is known for its natural beauty — especially the Olympic Peninsula, the Cascade Mountain Range, and the islands and waters of Puget Sound.

Seattle is a center for international trade and cooperation. It is a multicultural city whose citizens come from all over the world. This is reflected in everything from museums, restaurants, and festivals, to civic leaders and elected officials. Seattle is home to the award-winning Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Opera, and Pacific Northwest Ballet. Seattle’s airport is an international hub with convenient connections to many cities.

Advice for International Applicants to Our PhD Program

The record of your performance in advanced mathematics courses is, of course, a crucial part of your application. Since marks in courses by themselves can be hard to interpret on their own by people outside your institution, it is helpful if the professors writing your letters of recommendation put those marks in context, for example, by indicating how your performance compares with that of other students in the same classes.

You can make your application stronger if you give specific evidence demonstrating research promise. In recent years many universities in the U.S. have started programs called Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs). For American applicants the most common evidence of research promise is a letter of recommendation from their REU professor. If your university does not offer research experiences for undergraduates, you can highlight other types of evidence in your application. For example (none of these are requirements):

  1. Master’s level research if you are currently getting a Master’s degree in your own country.  A summary description of your Master’s project can be included in your answer to application questions 4, 5, or 8 (see https://math.washington.edu/how-apply).
  2. Mathematical conversations with a professor that go beyond the required material for your courses, in which case a letter of recommendation from that professor would be helpful. 
  3. Contact (such as email correspondence) with a mathematician not at your institution who can speak about your research potential, in which case a letter of recommendation from that mathematician would be helpful.
  4. A summary of and citation for any research articles you’ve written or coauthored.

Even though the Math Subject GRE is optional, it is highly recommended for international applicants. These scores are one of the ways that we compare applicants from around the world. If you are someone who does well on standardized tests, then a good score will enhance your record.

An optional question on the application form asks about contributions to enhancing diversity of the mathematical profession (“Have you initiated or participated in activities that work to increase participation of underrepresented populations in the mathematical sciences?”). The meaning of “underrepresented populations” varies from one country to another. Diversity-enhancing activities might include participating in a special program for women students, students from ethnic minorities, or students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Tutoring or mentoring individual students from underrepresented groups can also be mentioned. If you have overcome obstacles or hardships because of belonging to an underrepresented group, you could discuss this in answer to application questions 6 or 8.

The TOEFL Requirements for International Applicants

Note: An international applicant is one who is not a US citizen and does not hold a US Permanent Resident Visa ("green card" or "immigrant"). This definition includes students who hold US visas, such as F-1 students, J-1 exchange visitors, H1-B, or any other non-immigrant classifications.  The Graduate School’s International Applicant Information is a helpful resource.  We will summarize the requirements below.

In addition to the materials that all applicants must submit, international applicants who are not native speakers of English need to provide evidence of English language proficiency. There are two issues to distinguish:

The Graduate School Memos #8 and #15 are summarized below, and you can find the full details by following the links.

Requirements for Admission to the University

If your native language is not English, to satisfy the English language proficiency requirements to be admitted to the University, you must have either

  • a Bachelor's, Master's, or PhD degree from an institution in an English speaking country (see Memo #8 for details) or
  • a score of 92 or higher on the TOEFL-iBT.

Applying for Financial Support as a Teaching Assistant

Almost all of our graduate students are supported through teaching assistantships. If your native language is not English, to qualify for financial support you must also have either

  • a Bachelor's degree from an institution in an English-speaking country (see Memo #15 for details) or
  • a score of at least 23 on the speaking section of the TOEFL-iBT, but preferably a score of at least 26 so you could teach with no further requirements.  

We occasionally offer admission with financial support to applicants with scores of 23-25 on the speaking section of the TOEFL. If you are admitted with a score in that range, you will be required to take the VERSANT English test after you arrive. With a sufficiently high VERSANT score, you will be qualified to teach right away. Otherwise, you will be required to enroll in and pass English 105. In order for your financial support to be renewed for your second year, you will need to pass the spoken English requirement no later than the end of Winter Quarter of your first year in the program.

Links to Further Resources

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